Carbon export from the surface to the deep ocean is a primary control on global carbon budgets and is mediated by plankton that are sensitive to physical forcing. Earth system models generally do not resolve ocean mesoscale circulation ((10–100) km), scales that strongly affect transport of nutrients and plankton. The role of mesoscale circulation in modulating export is evaluated by comparing global ocean simulations conducted at 1∘ and 0.1∘ horizontal resolution. Mesoscale resolution produces a small reduction in globally integrated export production (<2%); however, the impact on local export production can be large (±50%), with compensating effects in different ocean basins. With mesoscale resolution, improved representation of coastal jets block off-shelf transport, leading to lower export in regions where shelf-derived nutrients fuel production. Export is further reduced in these regions by resolution of mesoscale turbulence, which restricts the spatial area of production. Maximum mixed layer depths are narrower and deeper across the Subantarctic at higher resolution, driving locally stronger nutrient entrainment and enhanced summer export production. In energetic regions with seasonal blooms, such as the Subantarctic and North Pacific, internally generated mesoscale variability drives substantial interannual variation in local export production. These results suggest that biogeochemical tracer dynamics show different sensitivities to transport biases than temperature and salinity, which should be considered in the formulation and validation of physical parameterizations. Efforts to compare estimates of export production from observations and models should account for large variability in space and time expected for regions strongly affected by mesoscale circulation.
Harrison, C. S., Long, M. C., Lovenduski, N. S., & Moore, J. K. (2018). Mesoscale effects on carbon export: A global perspective. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 32, 680–703. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017GB005751
Global Biogeochemical Cycles